While Mead’s theory deals more with the general concept of human interaction, other theories branch off into more specific areas within communication studies, so it becomes helpful to review various types of communication.
Earlier, this chapter explored the basics of the communication model (message, sender, receiver, channel or medium), but what if the sender and receiver are the same person? In this instance, intrapersonal communication occurs. Now, before thinking about whether or not it sounds “crazy” to talk to oneself, relax—everyone does it. Intrapersonal communication is referred to as thought, or communication where the communicator simultaneously operates as the sender and receiver. Intrapersonal communication internalizes a communicator’s use of language, but individuals might find that they use it in any or all of the following situations:
- Reading out loud to themselves
- Internal monologues
- Formulating thoughts before composing, whether by hand or typing (doodling and drawing also fall into this category)
- Making gestures while thinking (some people do this while practicing speeches in their heads)
- Sensemaking, as in the previous “four-legged monoshelf” example, before the classmate walked in
- Interpreting others’ nonverbal communication symbols
- Communication between parts of the bodies (e.g., “My legs are telling me that I should not go to the gym today.”)
Healthy intrapersonal communication provides the foundation for all other forms of communication, for intrapersonal interactions help formulate the messages that get sent to external audiences. Dysfunctional (or nonexistent) intrapersonal communication behaviors often result in sending messages without thinking about them first, only to end up regretting having done so later.
Intrapersonal communication precedes external communication in forms such as the thought process involved in composing messages before delivering them, as well as any deliberate decisions individuals might make regarding how they send the message, such as choosing the accompanying nonverbal tone, inflection, or facial expressions. These choices affecting how to compose and deliver messages form the foundation for human interaction. Whether verbal or nonverbal in nature, external communication does not appear out of nowhere. Such messages originate from an internal cognitive process, which may be deliberately thought-out or unintentionally reactive, but regardless, intrapersonal communication requires careful monitoring and control to ensure effective interpersonal communication.
Once other people get added to the conversation, intrapersonal communication transforms into interpersonal communication. McCornack (2010) defined interpersonal communication as “a dynamic form of communication between two (or more) people in which the messages exchanged significantly influence their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships.” While this definition provides a basic overview of interpersonal communication, it distinguishes it from intrapersonal communication by externalizing the receiver of the message as well as the channel or medium for transmission, all while creating an interaction in which the participants mutually create meaning through sharing. This form of communication leads to the construction of meaning, as demonstrated earlier in Mead’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism.
If more than two people communicate simultaneously, small group communication occurs. Small groups have become more commonplace within working environments since business leaders find them integral to organizational success. Small group sizes generally range from three to 20 persons, and in most cases, get formed to accomplish a specific purpose, whether to address a short-term problem (ad hoc committees) or for longer-term use. Sometimes, a group might meet informally, such as a group of friends that typically spend time together, or the group might have a more formal charge, such as a workgroup within a professional organization. Regardless, a small group consists of members seeking to use communication to achieve a commonly held goal.
As the audience for a speaker’s message grows, the form of communication changes from a small group discussion where each member has the opportunity to contribute, to more of a public-speaking scenario where the group becomes an audience focused on the speaker’s message. The feedback loop becomes partially and temporarily cut off, causing information to flow in one direction, from speaker to receiver, with the speaker receiving only nonverbal feedback as the audience listens. That makes this form of communication unique to the others discussed in this chapter.
Public communication transitions to mass communication as the audience continues to grow and the feedback loop has become almost completely eliminated from legacy media outlets, though modern online and social media platforms have provided a platform for content creators and consumers to provide original content and commentary. Mass communication relies on technological mediation, meaning that, with exception to speeches delivered to large crowds in arenas, mass communication occurs through the tools of mass media: radio, television, film, computers, and other digital platforms. In most instances, the receiver has no direct access to the sender, allowing the sender complete control over the message .